Terracotta pelike (jar),

Attributed to Polygnotos

Obverse, Perseus beheading the sleeping Medusa
Reverse, King Polypeithes between two women

King Polydektes sent Perseus to obtain the head of the Gorgon Medusa, a monstrous, snaky-haired, winged creature with glaring eyes whose gaze turned beholders to stone. Perseus accomplished his mission with the help of Athena, Hermes and the Nymphs, and returned to the island of Seriphos whence he had set out. By the mid-fifth century B.C., the story and the motif of the Gorgon's head had become popular in Attic art. Perseus looks unwaveringly at his protectress, Athena as he is about to behead the sleeping Medusa. The rendering here is unusual, however, because it is one of the earliest in which Medusa's face is that of a beautiful young woman. Another important feature here, although not longer readily visible, is that rays surround the hero's head, indicating special stature or power.
Compared with the movement and detail on the obverse, the reverse shows a grand and quiet scene of a king—who is not otherwise known—between two women holding the standard offering utensils.
Polygnotos was a rather current name in classical Athens. It is most often associated with Polygnotos of Thasos who painted large-scale wall paintings in Athens and Delphi that are described in ancient literary sources.

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 159

Public Domain

Object Details

Attributed to Polygnotos

Period: Classical

Date: ca. 450–440 B.C.

Culture: Greek, Attic

Medium: Terracotta; red-figure

Dimensions: H. 18 13/16 in. (47.8 cm)
diameter 13 1/2 in. (34.3 cm)

Classification: Vases

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1945

Accession Number: 45.11.1


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Inscription: The name of King Polypeithes is inscribed.
Said to be from South Italy

[In 1940s, art market, Geneva, Switzerland]; [until 1945, with Dr. Jacob Hirsch, Paris and New York]; acquired in 1945, purchased from Dr. Jacob Hirsch.
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Richter, Gisela M. A. 1953. Handbook of the Greek Collection. pp. 100, 240, pl. 80h, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Richter, Gisela M. A. 1958[1946]. Attic Red-Figured Vases: A Survey, Revised Edition, 2nd edn. p. 128, fig. 86, New Haven: Yale University Press.

Beazley, John D. 1963[1942]. Attic Red-figure Vase-painters, Vols. 1 and 2, 2nd ed. p. 1032, no. 55, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Beazley, John D. 1971. Paralipomena: Additions to Attic Black-Figure Vase-Painters and to Attic Red-Figure Vase-Painters [2nd edition]. p. 442, Oxford: Clarendon Press.

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Reeder, Ellen D., Sally Humphreys, Prof. Mary R. Lefkowitz, Francois Lissarrague, Prof. Margot Schmidt, Prof. H. Alan Shapiro, Christianne Sourvinou-Inwood, Prof. Andrew F. Stewart, Froma Zeitlin, Carol Benson, and Brunilde Sismondo Ridgway. 1995. "Women in Classical Greece." Pandora: Women in Classical Greece. pp. 413–15, fig. 136, detail p. 17, fig. 3, Baltimore: Walters Art Gallery.

Woodford, Susan and Cambridge University Press. 2003. Images of Myths in Classical Antiquity. p. 134, fig. 101, Cambridge.

Karoglou, Kyriaki. 2018. "Dangerous Beauty : Medusa in Classical Art." Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 75(3): pp. 9–10, fig. 8.